October 27, 2011

The Undergraduate Prisoner’s Dilemma

Print More

An individual wakes up and finds himself trapped between four tall walls and a roof. He does not recognize the place, but the smell reminds him of Lynah Rink. It stinks and he wants to get out. There are three possible escape routes: a door –– which is perpendicular to him –– and two windows –– opposing eachother and located to the his side. He reaches for the door, but it is locked. After some useless attempts to open it, he decides to escape through one of the windows. The window to his left leads to the A.D. White Library. The one to his right, on the other hand, seems to be Dino’s –– rest in peace –– on a Friday night.

This individual, my fellow readers, personifies the average undergraduate student. Yes, we are all prisoners. Each one of is trapped in college –– for about four years –– and must choose between the two escape routes to the outside world: the intellectual and the social. At the end of the day, our decisions boil down to our personal desires. This is the case because in the overwhelming majority of cases, individual actions are based on maximizing benefits –– or pleasure. After all, this is what being human –– i.e. rational –– is all about. But before describing the the two escape routes, I feel compelled to specify that my dilemma does not apply to all undergraduate students. That is why I claim the person in my hypothetical example represents the average. I am sure there are cases –– though rare –– of extremely intellectual and social individuals. In my hypothetical example, these exceptional human beings would be able to open the door and just walk out. Yeah, they are that awesome. Unfortunately, most of us are not like Miley Cyrus. We cannot have the best of both worlds. Having said that, we can now proceed to explore the windows.

The Intellectual Route: In contrast to what most people believe, being an intellectual student does not require eight Dean’s List certificates and a 4.0 grade point average. Nevertheless, since intellectuals tend to invest more time and resources on studying than other students, they are more likely to be academically successful. What makes a student an intellectual, however, is that he categorizes his undergraduate studies as a pleasurable end in itself. In simpler words, intellectuals enroll in college because they actually want to engage in thoughtful analyses of academic disciplines. These students value, assess and understand the information taught to them to the extent that they can remember everything since freshman year and make reflective interdisciplinary reflections. Since intellectuals value their academic experience based on its inherent value, they admire every discipline studied because to them, they are all worth the same –– knowledge.

The Social Route: Intellectuals see their undergraduate career as an end because, to them, it is beneficial in itself. Social students, on the other hand, see their undergraduate career as a mean to other pleasures. For social students, success is not really measured by what a person knows, but actually by what that person has achieved –– i.e. a profitable job, a functional family, social respect, etc. In order to attain these benefits, socials believe they have to record a notable academic performance during their undergraduate career. In other words, they also perform well in school, but for different purposes. Intellectuals develop a romantic relationship with their studies. They love their undergraduate career for what its real beauty –– for what it is. Socials, in contrast, are appealed to their undergraduate studies for what it represents –– Cornell diploma, networking, etc. As stated before humans seek pleasure. The intellectuals are already benefitting from their ultimate benefit during their undergraduate studies. The socials, however, have to wait until they reach their end. In the meantime, they seek pleasure from their college social life. It is impressive to see the importance most socials give to their social life. I think it is pretty plausible to say that a lot of people have devoted more time and thought to figuring out what their Halloween costume is going to be, than in the midterm paper they pulled an all-nighter to complete.

The Dilemma: Ezra Cornell famously proclaimed that Cornell was a university for “… any person … [to] find instruction in any study.” We should also add to that “for any reason.” A lot of students criticize other peers because they are nerds that do not go out or because they are too greedy and just care about money. However, I believe there is no right or wrong motivation.The important thing is that the specific incentive is strong enough to help us become the individuals that we aspired to be. We have different majors, ethnic backgrounds, religions and ambitions. However, we are all prisoners belonging to the same prison. We faced the same dilemma. And, at the end of the day, we should all be proud we escaped and can all be called Cornellians.

Abdiel Ortiz-Carrasquillo is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at aortiz@cornellsun.com. I Respectfully Dissent appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: AJ Ortiz